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Review:  Hard Day of the Dead dances on, never mind the policy changes

Method Man and Redman perform during the Hard Day of the Dead Halloween-themed rave at the Pomona Fairplex on Oct. 31, 2015.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

The annual Hard Day of the Dead music festival returned over the weekend with some changes, including a 21-and-older admission policy and 40% smaller crowds, but that didn’t hinder those who turned out for the pulsating beats Saturday at the Pomona Fairplex’s five indoor stages.

Electronic music fans danced to high-amplitude sets by dozens of acts, including bass-thumping club kings Deadmau5 and Nero, the deep-grooving Bonobo and Luciano, and upstart rappers Future and Vic Mensa. After two women died at the summer edition of the Hard festival in August, Live Nation, which runs the fests, canceled the Night at the Fairplex concert in September and instituted the age limit for the Day of the Dead show while also limiting its capacity. About 20,000 attended Saturday, according to organizers, who said last year’s show brought in 35,000 on each of the festival’s two days.

Pomona police distributed fliers near the entrance gates on the effects of the drug MDMA and the symptoms of overdosing. Concertgoers traversed a gantlet of metal detectors, drug drop-off “amnesty boxes” and finally a row of drug-sniffing dogs before entering the Fairplex. Police said 148 people were arrested Saturday, primarily on suspicion of drug offenses.

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Stephanie Sims, 23, from Santa Barbara, had been to the Hard summer festival two years ago. She noticed the increased police activity at the Day of the Dead concert.

“The cop presence is a little intense,” said Sims, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood.

Despite the changes, the crowd came ready for a Halloween fest, dressed like vampires or Frankensteins or zeitgeisty emoticons. Popular memes abounded, such as “Left Sharks,” a reference to Bryan Gaw, a backup dancer for Katy Perry’s 2015 Super Bowl halftime show, who became Internet-famous after revealing his identity during an Ask-Me-Anything session on social site Reddit.

The audience percolated into a sweaty, swirling mass of bodies during a set by London dance-rock band Hot Chip. A bushel of men in banana suits bounced to the funky set-closing version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”

Eddie Sagal, 38, dressed in a Hunter S. Thompson-style tropical shirt, cargo shorts and tall white tube socks, did the gonzo journalist’s signature sway. The rave veteran had been to five editions of Hard fest and said the concert was different from the underground warehouse parties of yore.

“This is much better than the old days, much cleaner,” he said.

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During the performance by rappers Redman and Method Man, a troupe clad in costumes based on cult movie “The Warriors” waved hands in the air and rapped along to songs from the 1990s hip-hop group WuTang Clan.

Ryan O’Shaughnessy, 34, a financial analyst dressed as a bunch of green grapes, drove to the festival from San Diego and arrived just in time to see his favorite acts. “For me, the show doesn’t really start until Flying Lotus and Deadmau5,” he said.

On the Bone Shaker stage, ethereal L.A. producer Flying Lotus (aka Steven Ellison) perched behind his beat machines in a police uniform and a mask with glowing oval eyes. Lurching to the bass-heavy rhythms, he was backdropped by psychedelic video projections while other imagery played on a scrim in front of him.

“You want to get weird?” he asked between songs, which included Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More” (which famously samples Bernard Herrmann’s “Psycho” soundtrack) and the hyperkinetic electro of EDM maestro Squarepusher. Ellison wove his own music into the mix, providing the celestial synths, jagged beats and jazzy low-end by virtuosic Los Angeles bassist Thundercat while dishing out tracks from his acclaimed 2010 album, “Cosmogramma,” and his 2014 effort, “You’re Dead.”

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Halfway through his performance, the crowd thinned out to catch the other headliner, Deadmau5, whose frenetic video show, melodic breakdowns and pumping kick-drums got audiences moving.

Back at Ellison’s stage, as his set came to a close, he reached into the sparse but loyal crowd with a mic. To those who stuck it out until the end, he announced, “All right, let’s get out of here, I’m ready to go home.”

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